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Books for Christmas!

In another life, I would have time to sit and read every day. I love reading, it is such a wonderful way to escape and lose yourself. Hey ho, not just yet Joanna! But that doesn’t stop me drooling over books I see reviewed online or actually stroking them lovingly in shops (I’m sorry, but it has been known!) It’s been very hard to narrow my choices for 2017 down to five, some that I’d like to give, the others to receive, but here they are:

Dairy Diary

Look, I know this isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but my Mother always had this diary and, when it comes to keeping track of appointments I am still very happy with good old paper and pen rather than technology, thank you very much. But of course, this best-seller is much more than just a diary, it is both practical and pretty with delicious weekly recipes, year planners, calendars, home budgeting, interesting garden and leisure features plus kitchen tips and tricks, stain removal and laundry tips – phew! It’s a traditional treasure trove and I’m very fond of it…and anyway, it reminds me of my Mum.

 

Down to Earth by Monty Don

I will hear no wrong about Monty Don! Here, he shares 50 years of his gardening experience with us in this easy to digest gardening book which covers a wide range of subjects including shrubs, containers, pests and compost, to growing your own edibles and useful pointers on what to do in each month of the year. In his gentle, easy way, he tells us not to worry about the plants in the garden – they are tough, and can look after themselves. Thank goodness for that! There is sensible design advice for small gardens in here too. It’s really rather good and both a great starter book for a novice gardener and a handy reference guide for others.

 

Little Miss Busy Surviving Motherhood (Mr. Men for Grown-ups)

Mr Men arrived too late for me, but my older daughter Pippa enjoyed them when small… but now, thanks to this new range I can enjoy them as a grown up! These are no great literary works, but they are fun and make a super stocking filler with their various characters getting into all sorts of humorous adult predicaments! The author of the original Mr Men, Roger Hargreaves, is Britain’s third best-selling author of all time having sold more than 100 million books. He wrote the first Mr. Men book in 1971 when his 8-year-old son, Adam Hargreaves, asked ‘What does a tickle look like?’ In response, Roger drew a figure with a round orange body and long, rubbery arms and Mr. Tickle was born. And the final twist to this rather lovely story is that Adam Hargreaves himself, now draws the characters for the modern day stories that his late father originally created.

 

Mary Berry Everyday by Mary Berry

If, like me, you are a Mary Berry fan, then you need to add this book to your collection. The blurb says: “In this brand-new, official tie-in to Mary’s much anticipated 2017 BBC series, the nation’s best-loved home cook will show you how to inject a little Mary magic into your everyday cooking, with over 120 delicious recipes.” And indeed it does! Mary is so no nonsense and has so much knowledge, you can’t go wrong with her recipes – easy to follow and using normal ingredients. Although these are billed as ‘everyday’ recipes, there are plenty that would do well for special occasions too.

 

5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver is a clever chap. This is yet another brilliant cook book from him and one that I shall be both giving and (thanks Richard!) receiving. Every recipe uses just five key ingredients, ensuring you can get a plate of food together fast, whether it’s finished and on the table super-quickly, or after some minimal hands-on preparation – just my sort of cooking! As the blurb puts it: ‘We’re talking quality over quantity, a little diligence on the cooking front, and in return massive flavour.’

 

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Make it a lovely local Christmas!

As crafters, I think we can all understand how much skill is involved in turning a hobby into a successful business. At Christmas, I do like to try and find unusual gifts, rather than rushing to a high street chain or relying on Amazon to do my shopping. I also feel it is important to support local producers wherever I can. If we don’t, they won’t survive and the world will be a poorer, less interesting place.

I have already spotted several super local producers in my neck of the woods and will be getting quite a few local gifts for family and friends. I have included links (where I can) if you are interested in buying from my local producers, but I hope it will inspire you to have a look around your own area and see what is on offer. I bet you’ll be very pleasantly surprised!

Twool sounds lovely – and it is lovely! Super sustainable twool products are made in Devon from the ‘lustre’ long wool of the rare breed Whiteface Dartmoor sheep. Versatile twool yarn is the eco-friendly British alternative to jute. Their online shop is full of lovely gift ideas from garden twine to posh woolly bags to dog leads. They also have some special Christmas gifts including a ‘Chelsheepensioner Dumpling’ hand knitted from twool – you’ll have to go and look at their website now just to see what that is!

I confess I have mentioned The Dartmoor Soap Company before, but I truly believe it is worth another mention! Their soaps are fab and make great stocking fillers. Their artisan soaps are handmade using natural ingredients which, wherever possible, are sustainably sourced and harvested on Dartmoor. How good is that? They produce a wonderful range of soaps including aromatherapy soaps, soaps for men and even soap for pets! There is definitely a soap for every member of your family!

Clare’s Preserves is a true artisan producer of multi award winning marmalades, jams, jellies, chutneys and relishes. Based in the foothills of Dartmoor, all products are handmade by Clare in small batches, using traditional open pot methods. Clare’s preserves include some wonderful flavour combinations – Beetroot & Orange Chutney, Blackcurrant & Lime Jam, Lemon, Dartmoor Honey and Ginger Marmalade and many more! You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Not wishing to be accused of being sexist, but… here’s one for the boys well, definitely for Richard anyway! Dartmoor Brewery is the only brewery on the moor producing Dartmoor branded beer, the brewery is passionate about preserving and promoting Dartmoor and its traditions. The Brewery’s own shop at its HQ in Princetown sells everything from its popular beers — including Jail Ale, Dartmoor IPA, Dartmoor Best and Legend — to Dartmoor Brewery branded goods such as T-shirts, rugby shirts, hoodies and beer gift packs.

And finally… how about a bit of light Christmas reading material? I know, absolutely shameful self-promotion but the fourth book in the Swaddlecombe Series is entitled The Proof is in the Pudding and has a Christmassy theme, so I feel I am allowed to include it! You can buy this one (and the previous three!) in paperback from my website, or on Kindle.

 

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We all love an Advent calendar!

As today is 1st December, I thought it would be fun to look at that Christmas favourite – the Advent calendar!

As a child, I can remember being SO excited about opening the little numbered windows in the run up to Christmas Day. Back then, there was nothing more than a picture behind each door or, if I was very lucky, a chocolate and I found it thrilling! Today, you can buy Advent calendars stuffed with 24 ‘surprises’ ranging from chocolate to gin and everything in between, with just as many aimed at adults as children. Each to their own of course, but I can’t help feel it’s another nice little innocent tradition that has been thoroughly hijacked by commercialism! But hey ho… I thought I’d do a bit of delving and look back into the origins of the Advent calendar.

An Advent calendar is used to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Technically, the date of the first Sunday of Advent can fall anywhere between between November 27 and December 3, but today, pretty much all Advent calendars begin on December 1. It’s widely accepted that the Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now common across most Christian denominations.

Traditionally, Advent calendars featured the manger scene, Father Christmas or idyllic snowy landscapes and featured paper flaps, windows or doors, covering each date. The little windows opened to reveal an image, a poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity), or a sweet treat. Often, each window had a Bible verse and Christian prayer printed on it and Christians would incorporate this into their daily Advent devotions.

Today, as well as covering a mind-boggling array of indulgent treats, the calendars can take the form of fabric pockets, painted wooden boxes with cubby holes for small items or, as I spotted online, a train set with 24 mini waggons, each loaded with a present… and so on and so on. So much for any religious significance!

In the snowy northern climes of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden there is a tradition of having a so-called ‘Julekalender’ ­– the local word for a Yule, or Christmas – calendar (even though it actually is an Advent calendar) in the form of a television or radio show, starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Eve. I’m amazed this hasn’t caught on over here! Surely we could have a series of 24 gardening, cooking and dancing shows to trot us up to Christmas in a very merry frame of mind! But then, that wouldn’t seem all that different to our usual TV scheduling, would it?

Oh, but that’s enough of my cheek. My granddaughter Grace will have a lovely traditional Advent calendar (with perhaps just some small sweetie treats!) and I know her little face will light up with joy as she opens each window and begins to feel the magic of Christmas. Smiles, Joanna.

 

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Lovely Las Vegas

Las Vegas – one of the few cities in the world whose name makes me smile! I have wonderful memories of Las Vegas with family and friends when Richard and I got married there. Now not everyone shares my view – many (often those who haven’t visited) think it’s all cheesy drive through Elvis wedding chapels and cheap eateries.

You couldn’t be more wrong. Las Vegas today still has the showgirl heritage but it has moved on and there are now more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city in the world, I believe. The hotels are often very reasonably priced and just wandering down the Strip (main street) is entertainment in itself. The theatres and concerts are amazing and definitely West End or Broadway quality.

The Bellagio has its famous dancing fountains (as in Oceans 11). The Venetian has a gondola ride within the hotel (over a mile long) yes inside the hotel and the reception area is a beautiful take on the Michelangelo ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. There are casinos yes (ok, ok so maybe I do indulge in some blackjack – it’s fun!) but there are also lovely swimming pools, gorgeous spas (Caesars Palace has a room where it snows!) and masses of excellent restaurants. Alternatively if you are on a budget – there’s always Panda Express – where we paid about £6 a head for us all to have loads of delicious Chinese food.

I wonder if the Las Vegas travel board would like to employ me – I’m not trying to sell Vegas trips, just saying if you haven’t been … there are tons of beautiful places there included the truly beautiful Italianate chapel where Richard I tied the knot!

This card was one I simply had to make. The image is a painting by Evgeny Lushpin (pronounced Eugeny), a Russian artist I discovered just recently and I think it would make a wonderful card for someone going on a trip – perhaps on a stag or hen weekend or holiday? The die used as an embellishment is the Signature dies Morning Glory Vine. Enjoy!

 

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Simple pleasures…

As we get older, I think we become more aware of ‘simple’ pleasures’, well I know I do! The smell of coffee brewing, freshly cut grass or hearing an owl hoot – all simple things that give immense pleasure.

I read the other day that Vita Sackville-West (she of Sissinghurst Garden fame, amongst other things…) used the term ‘through leaves’ to describe simple pleasures enjoyed by her family. She coined the phrase after “the small but intense pleasure of kicking through leaves while out walking”, which I thought was rather lovely.

Another classic, that I expect almost all of us know, are the lyrics to the song ‘My favourite things’ from the Sound of Music, including whiskers on kittens, warm woollen mittens and brown paper packages tied up with string.

It’s so easy to think that pleasures have to be big and expensive, like holidays, or fancy clothes… but I think we start to appreciate the simple things the more we experience life. You often hear people who have survived cancer, or cheated death in an accident or natural disaster, say how they appreciate every day, every moment, and are more aware of what’s around them.

I had a think about my ‘through leaves’ moments, and came up with the following list:

  • The smell of baking bread (thanks to Richard and his bread maker!)
  • Little Grace running towards me with her arms open
  • A beautiful sunset (or dawn, but that’s rare!)
  • Hearing my daughters say a casual I love you
  • Finishing a card and sitting back and thinking – that’s a keeper!

My co-author Julia was here (we were busy having a book signing session!) and I asked her, for her ‘Through leaves’ moments and she said:

  • Standing in the middle of her runner bean arch(!)
  • Being greeted by her dog, Moss, in the morning
  • Watching beech leaves unfurl in spring
  • Walks on frosty mornings
  • Birdsong

So what are your ‘through leaves’ moments? Do let me know… smiles, Joanna

 

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